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GM Leverages 3D Printing to Fight Coronavirus

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GM COVID-19 masks
Photo: John F. Martin for General Motors

Back in the spring, GM modified its production facilities to produce ventilators for healthcare professionals fighting COVID-19 in hospitals nationwide. 3D printing has played a key part in the company’s efforts to help protect frontline workers during the pandemic.

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The essential role of 3D printing

According to GM director of additive manufacturing Ron Daul, the automaker “could not have responded to the coronavirus as quickly as [it…] did without 3D printing.” GM relied on this printing technique to produce nearly all of the tools needed to assemble Ventec Brand ventilators in Indiana. These tools typically hold parts in place during the assembly process as machines reverse engineer the masks based on data from ventilator supply companies, says GM Authority’s Sam McEachern.

3D printing enabled the company to adapt mask designs quickly based on improvement suggestions from medical workers. “[It] allows us to make constant, rapid changes to fixtures based on feedback from the assembly teams,” said GM senior manufacturing engineer Dominick Lentine.

Besides face masks, GM has also used 3D printing to make plastic “ear savers” that allow people can wear masks more comfortably for longer periods. It has also used it to churn out other personal protective equipment like face shields and medical gowns.

The future of 3D printing at GM

3D printing will continue to remain central to GM production practices in the future, as McEachern confirms. It will be interesting to watch how the company balances PPE production with vehicle production as we shift into the 2021 model year.

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